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Mangia Italiana at Taverna!

By Staff | Apr 21, 2016

Partners in Taverna at Kapalua Resort are (from left) Roger Stettler, Chris Kaiwi and Greg Shepherd. PHOTOS BY KAREE CARLUCCI.

KAPALUA – Where do you go for friendly service, good eats and handcrafted drinks? I highly recommend West Maui’s newest restaurant and hot-spot bar, Taverna in Kapalua Resort. The spacious location in the former Kapalua Adventure Center on Office Road offers plenty of free parking along with expansive views of golf greens against a tree-lined mountain backdrop and blue water beyond.

When I learned that well-known West Maui restaurateur Chris Kaiwi had partnered with highly acclaimed Chef Roger Stettler and fine wine specialist Greg Shepherd to create Taverna, I couldn’t wait to try it. So we made the scenic trek to Kapalua recently to mangia Italiana.

We were greeted by Chris who explained their concept: “We created a neighborhood gathering place where you can enjoy a casual meal from Chef Roger’s Italian comfort menu. We have an exciting and innovative bar program, featuring craft cocktails, craft tap beer selections and an Italian-inspired wine program.”

Taverna’s ambiance is inviting with rustic wood walls and bistro-style furniture. The huge bar features seating on three sides and four high-definition TVs. Floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors draw nature’s beauty inside.

The menu is designed to share plates in a true European style. It’s divided into antipasti (appetizers, salads and soups), Woodstone oven pizzas, first courses of pasta and risotto, main dishes, sides and sweets. We wanted to try a something from each section of the menu.

One of Taverna’s special appetizers, Fichi & Speck, showcases Chef Roger Stettler’s flair with Northern Italian cuisine.

I selected the evening’s special of Fichi & Speck: fresh baby figs were layered with thinly sliced, cured-smoked meat (a specialty of the Alto Adige region) and Balsamic vinegar, topped with micro-greens. It was a delightful combination of sweet, salty and tart flavors, and a dish that I’d love to try again. Tom enjoyed a rich Tomato Soup made with vine-ripened local tomatoes and basil oil, topped with Parmesan cheese crisps. Next, we tucked into a shared Carnevor Pizza, hot from the Woodstone fired oven. The crust was thin and perfectly baked; the marinara sauce was savory, and toppings were a gourmet blend of Italian sausage, spicy pepperoni and smoky prosciutto – delicioso!

Chef Roger noted, “Italian food is all about freshness, simplicity and quality ingredients, most of which are locally sourced. This menu is built on dishes that are familiar to most Italian food lovers – dishes that I grew up with and learned how to cook from my mother and grandmother. Creating them from scratch with ingredients that are harvested at peak flavor is essential to bring the flavors together harmoniously.”

Roger’s family roots are from Northern Italy, so many of his entrees reflect that heritage. Dark squid ink is folded into his Risotto Nero and Ravioli Pasta. The Lobster Ravioli is luscious in its tarragon red cream sauce. Risotto Nero is stocked with shrimp, scallops, island fish and tako. Taverna’s signature lasagna is made Bolognese-style with lots of beef in tomato sauce, layered with Bchamel and melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. The chef’s Veal Ossobuco is braised Milanese-style and served with finely minced gremolata over creamy risotto. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the food is outstanding.

To pair with these dishes, Taverna offers a large selection of wines by the glass, many of which are from Italy, as well as top vintages from California.

“Looking through an Italian wine list can often be overwhelming, so we try to pick wines that are balanced and pair well with all of chef’s cuisine, then we place them into profiles such as vibrant, refined, irresistible,” remarked Greg Shepherd, Taverna’s operations manager.

“Personally, I enjoy Mottura Poggio delle Costa Grechetto, a mouthful, but so is the wine. Grechetto is a uniquely balanced white wine with great aromatics. With red wine we could chat for days, but what I think is the best deal for Italian wine is the Oddero Langhe Nebbiolo.”

And then there are the craft cocktails – every ingredient mixed with spirits is fresh. The juices are fresh squeezed; herbs are freshly picked and seasonings are blended in-house. One of the innovative cocktails being served is named “51 Shades.” It’s built with Aviation gin, Prosecco sparkling wine, Kula lavender, honey, lemon and creme de violette. Hmmm, shades of the Jazz Age on Maui.

Greg added, “Our bar is for anyone who wants to share our enthusiasm, passion and curiosity for craft cocktails.”

Taverna features 12 craft beers on tap made on Maui and across the U.S.A. You can also choose from an international array of bottled craft beers.

Desserts are made in-house and include Italian favorites like Panna Cotta with berry compote, classic Tiramisu, crunchy Cannoli, and smooth Gelato in a variety of flavors. We selected a vanilla gelato with a demitasse of Cafe Umbria espresso to round out a dinner that was perfetto!

Taverna is open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. There’s a mid-day menu served at the bar from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Dinner is available from 5:30 p.m. On Sundays, enjoy an ala carte Italian brunch from 9 a.m. to 2:30 pm. Call 667-CIAO (2426) or see tavernamaui.com.